Monday, August 10, 2009

Parsing the public's requirements

Gates of Memphis notices the fifth bullet on the RDC's Web page, which says, "Continuation of and improvements to the docking of boats." He still wants a straight answers to his question about RDC's intentions:
I want to land my boat on the Cobblestones. Will I be able to do this after the improvements?

Let's take a closer look and see if he might already have an answer.

Continues...First of all, from my point of view (and that of FfOR and others), he may be asking the wrong question. Here's what I mean.

As a boater, he may be concerned only about being able to "land" his own boat. That's a legitimate question, but as a Memphian, my own question is broader: Will the Memphis Queen Lines or other daily excursion cruises be able to land and board passengers for the larger riverboats--the way it has been done for over 150 years?

The answer is no, as was made clear in testimony before a City Council committees last year. The Memphis Queen Lines may be permitted park ("tie up") one or two of their riverboats in the harbor, in vicinity of the Cobblestones--because they have nowhere else to park--but they will no longer be boarding or deboarding passengers at the Cobblestones:
BOYD: Alright, the cobblestone use. I’ve received a lot of calls, a lot of correspondence I should say, will the excursion boats [portion inaudible]. Will they have an opportunity to tie up at the cobblestones?

LENDERMON: Yes. In fact they’d probably have to tie up there. They’ll probably have to tie their boats up there.

BOYD: And the Landing…

LENDERMON: They will pick up and drop off passengers at Beale Street Landing, in a safe environment that people can get to. They will quote “stage” their boats if you would at the Cobble…or at least SOME of their boats at the Cobblestones. So they’ll have a presence at the Cobblestones, but they’ll do picking up and dropping off of passengers from Beale Street Landing, in a safe manner in an ADA-acceptable manner.

There was another committee meeting last year dealing exclusively with the Cobblestones, and it's worth a read.

The disappearing boat dock

The RDC's objectives are also pretty clear if you take the trouble to review their Powerpoint presentation from last year. It has never been distributed to the general public (only "stakeholders"), but you can review it at this link, which is also in the sidebar. They've been unwilling to mail out the current version of their plan, but they've told me and others that little has changed..."maybe one or two pictures."

Go through those 30 pages from top to bottom. You'll find no mention of any objective to restore and preserve the Cobblestones as a functioning riverboat landing. That's because it wasn't their objective.

There was a mention of a boat dock on page 26 (of 30), tied in with the ADA ramp going down slope in Jefferson Davis Park:

The floating boat dock. (Click to enlarge in a separate window.)

The "floating dock" is at the right in this 2008 overview. (Click to enlarge in a separate window.)

I listened to the RDC president give this presentation to his board of directors early last year. I listened to him hesitate, hem and haw over this boat dock. It was something "under consideration" but he made it clear that it was in no way certain to be in the final plan. In any event, it would be small and suitable only for canoes and rowboats.

Here is the overview of the current design, as floated to City Council during the budget hearings a few weeks back.:

Current plan. (Click to enlarge.)

Look closely. Do you see a floating boat dock? Nope. Disappeared.

Evidently, this is why the RDC says "maybe one or two pictures" are different from the original draft 18 months ago.

The marketing checkoff

Now their Web page goes up announcing the public information meeting, and lo and behold a bullet appears (fifth on the list): "Continuation of and improvements to the docking of boats."

Did they decide add this bullet (which appears nowhere in their original plan) because they're getting heat from the stakeholder groups? Yes, I believe so. Are they bringing back the little floating boat dock? Very possibly.

As a former product marketing executive and a systems engineer, one who has helped bid on many government procurements for computer systems, I understand exactly what this bullet is. We used to call it a "check-off." It's a feature we added (usually with custom software or a third-party gadget) so that we could check off one of the government's requirements so as not to be disqualified.

A "check-off" isn't necessarily a useful, or even a usable, feature. It just needs to meet the carefully-parsed government requirement. If the government didn't state their requirement carefully enough, they got what they asked for. No more.

Which is why you need to attend the public information meeting Tuesday afternoon and ask for what you really want. Be very careful about your choice of words, e.g. "dock" versus "landing", and "boat" versus "riverboat." You can be certain that the RDC will be careful with their word choices. [Click here for TDOT notice (PDF)]

Updated, August 12, 2009: What I said above was re-confirmed at the meeting. Continued boat docking merely means that the Memphis Queen II will be allowed to "park" at the Cobblestones area, with utility hookups, when not in use.

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